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armadaSOUNDTRACK: RAID THE ARCADE PLAYLIST (2015).

raidIt should come as no surprise that Cline’s media campaign would include a Spotify “Raid the Arcade” playlist.  A playlist of the mixtape that the protagonist’s father made when he was a teen.

And I can pretty much see how this would have been a very satisfying mixtape for killing aliens and generally rocking out.  Of course, I had to have a listen and add my thoughts.

Side A: Track:

  1. One Vision – Queen (I was never a big Queen fan, particularly their later poppier stuff)
  2. Crazy Train – Ozzy (A classic, of course)
  3. Chase the Ace – AC/DC (I find it odd that the two AC/DC songs are instrumentals from the Maximum Overdrive soundtrack.  It makes sense given the guy who made them, but there’s so many better AC/DC songs)
  4. Hair of the Dog – Nazareth (One of my favorite classic rockers)
  5. Get it On – Power Station (I really hate Power Station a lot, and this version of an already pretty stupid song song is pretty dreadful)
  6. Old Enough to Rock and Roll – Rainey Haynes (I didn’t know this song.  It comes from the Iron Eagle soundtrack.  This song is not on Spotify and I imagine that’s because it’s terrible)
  7. Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins (This song is such a punch line that even if I did like it I’m not sure I could take it seriously)
  8. Vital Signs – Rush (I was totally psyched that he chose this Rush song)
  9. Barracuda – Heart (I’ve mixed feelings about Heart, but I do like this song a lot)
  10. T.N.T. – AC/DC (Now this is more like it for AC/DC songs–not an overplayed one either)
  11. You Really Got Me – Van Halen (Not my favorite Van Halen song, but a good rocker)
  12. Another One Bites the Dust – Queen (I loved this song when it came out.  It holds up pretty well (there’s some interesting sound effects in the background, but it’s nowhere near as good as the songs below)
  13. One of These Days – Pink Floyd (I love this song but never would have considered it particularly rocking–in the way these other songs are.  But it does rather work)
  14. Top Gun Anthem – Harold Faltermeyer (seriously?  Well, I guess if you like piloting video games, this makes sense.)

Side B: Track:

  1. I Hate Myself for Loving You – Joan Jett (I don’t care for this song, although the guitars sound good for the mix)
  2. It Takes Two – Rob Base (I’m surprised and pleased that this song made it into what is basically a metal compilation.  I never would have had such diversity at that age.  Although I got really sick of this song in college.)
  3. Hammer to Fall – Queen (I don’t really like this era of Queen)
  4. Twilight Zone – Golden Earring (I don’t love this song, but it is cool to hear once in a while)
  5. We’re Not Going to Take It – Twisted Sister (I loved TS back in the day, although I wince at them now. If this song wasn’t overplayed I could probably really get into it.)
  6. Rock You Like A Hurricane – Scorpions (I loved the Scorpions back in the day too. I certainly tapped my foot along to this one.)
  7. Black Betty – Ram Jam (This song is in a Rayman video game that Clark plays and while I think the song is really dumb, it certainly rocks.)
  8. D.T. – AC/DC (see above for instrumental AC/DC)
  9. Delirious – ZZ Top (I never got into ZZ Top, and while I do like some late 70s ZZ, I really don’t like mid 80s ZZ)
  10. Iron Eagle – King Kobra (Wow, this was obscure even to me–more pop metal from Iron Eagle)
  11. Run’s House – Run-DMC (Whose house?  It’s funny how stripped bare Run-DMC songs sound compared to contemporary rap.)
  12. We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions –Queen (overplayed but classic)

Bonus Track: Snoopy versus the Red Baron – The Red Guardsmen (a goof y novelty song that I think overstays its welcome.)

So I guess my verdict is that I really don’t like the Raid the Arcade mix all that much.  That’s kind of a shocker, actually.

[READ: July 31, 2015] Armada

I loved Cline’s first book Ready Player One.  And Sarah and I were understandably excited about his latest book, Armada.  I was surprised about the content of the book which is of similar plot to the new movie Pixels (I say similar based on what little I know of Pixels–that video game characters attack the earth).  This is surprising to me because Cline has already sold the rights of this book to Spielberg–and I have a  hard time believing someone would try to cut Spielberg with an idea.

Of course, Armada is rather different from Pixels in that the characters that attack the earth are not classic 80s video game characters.  Indeed, there is a whole back story that shows how very different these two premises are.

In a recent interview, Cline talked about how you have to include all the pop culture sci-fi and video games in his book because there’s no way you should be able to make a sci-fi book or movie on earth and not reference all of the pop culture that the protagonist grew up with.  So this story is not set in a vacuum.  In fact, it the pop culture establishes the plot.

Zack Lightman is a senior in high school.  He’s had a pretty crappy life.  His father was killed in a sanitation explosion when Zack was just a month old.  The death set him and his mom up for life, but he has spent his whole life immersed in his father’s life (he is close to his father’s age when his father died).  Zack has a lot of his father’s effects.  His dad was a huge gamer, spending a lot of time at the arcade, and loving all things sci-fi and fantasy.  His father would have been born around 1970, making the pop culture references perfect for those of us around the same age.

One day, while looking out the window of school, Zack sees an alien ship.  But not just a generic cigar shaped UFO.  Rather this is a ship directly from his favorite videogame, Armada.  Zack plays this game pretty much every day. In fact, he is ranked sixth in the world as a pilot protecting the earth from alien invaders.  Naturally he assumes he has gone insane–especially since no one else has seen it. (more…)

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may20014SOUNDTRACK: CRYPTOPSY-“Slit Your Guts” (1996).

cryptI had never heard of this band until I saw the song mentioned in the article.  The song is impossibly fast with speeding guitars, super fast (inhuman) drums and an indecipherable growl as vocal.  In other words, a typical cookie monster metal song.  And yet, there is a lot more to it and, indeed it took me several listens before I could even figure out what was happening here, by which time I had really fallen for the song.

There’s a middle section which is just as punishing and fast but which is basically an instrumental break–not for showing off exactly but for showcasing more than the bands pummel.  It has a short guitar solo followed by a faster more traditional solo (each for one measure, each in a different ear). Then the tempo picks up for an extended instrumental section.  The melody is slightly more sinister, but it sounds great.  There’s even a (very short) bass solo that sticks out as a totally unexpected (and fun) surprise.

Then the growls come back in, staying with the new melody.  The vocals are so low and growly that they are almost another distorted instrument rather than a voice.

After that there’s a lengthy proper guitar solo.  As the song comes to a close,  it repeats some previous sections before suddenly halting.  It’s quite a trip. And it definitely makes me want to hear more from them (whatever their name means).

[READ: April 14, 2014] “Destroy Your Safe and Happy Lives”

Robbins, who is a poet, but about whom I know little else, takes us on a sort of literary tour of heavy metal.  His tone is interesting–he is clearly into metal, like in a big way (at the end of the article he talks about taking his writing students to see Converge (although he doesn’t exactly say why)), but he’s also not afraid to make fun of the preposterousness of, well, most of the bands–even the ones he likes.  It’s a kind of warts and all appreciation for what metal is and isn’t.  many people have written about metal from many different angles, so there’s not a lot “new” here, but it is interesting to hear the different bands discussed in such a thoughtful (and not just in a fanboy) way.

His first footnote is interesting both for metal followers and metal disdainers: “Genre classification doesn’t interest me.  Listen to Poison Idea’s Feel the Darkness followed by Repulsion’s Horrified and tell me the main difference between hardcore punk and metal isn’t that one has a bullshit positive message and one has a bullshit negative message.”

But since Robbins is a poet, he is interested in metal’s connection to poetry.  And in the article he cites William Blake (of course), but also Rilke and John Ashbery and (naturally) Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as Shelley, Lord Byron and Charles Baudelaire.  He talks about them not because they are cool poets, but because they have also talked about because of metal’s “most familiar trope…duh, Satanism, which might be silly–okay, its’ definitely silly, but has a distinguished literary pedigree”.  Besides, he notes that Satan has the best lines in Paradise Lost (and I note that just as Judas has the best songs in Jesus Christ Superstar).

But sometimes this Satanism turns into a  form of paganism which then turns into nature worship.  From Voivod’s “Killing Technology” to black metal’s romanticism of nature (sometimes to crazy extremes–but that’s what a band needs to do to stand out sometimes).  Metal is all about the dark and primordial, a”rebuke to our soft lives.”

And yet, as a poet, Robbins has some quibbles with metal: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-2067 (2004).

This was the Rheostatics’ final release.  I’m not sure if they knew this would be their last disc, but it kind of feels like they are throwing everything they can into it.

It opens with a delicate song from Martin which reminds me of Jane Siberry (the “row upon row” section).  Although at about 4 minutes it starts rocking out.  It’s a kind of meandering song, which is odd to open an album with.

It’s followed by “Little Bird Little Bird” a great folky song form Bidini.  But the disc really come alive with “Marginalized” a song that reminds me in some ways of “Horses,” as it is rocking and a little twisted (it seems surprising that it came from Tim Vesely).  It’s got some great guitar and an impressive keyboard solo (!) from new member Michael Phillip Wojewoda.

“The Tarleks” follows (with some fun frog noises). It opens slowly (as Martin songs tend to do) but once it really takes off, its got a great riff with his wonderful dramatic pauses and really funky sound from the bass/keyboards.  Then we get the wonderfully odd “Power Ballad for Ozzy Osbourne.”  It’s a kind of joke (but not really) about rock performers aging gracefully.  Bidini gets a bunch of songs on this disc, and here he gets two in a row, with the bizarrely wonderful “I Dig Music.”  The subtitle is “The Jazz Animal” and it tells you a lot about the song…it is indeed a kind of high-octane jazz.  But it has many different segments (and a lyric that references Squarepusher).

“Here Comes the Image” is a 6 minute track from Vesely which sounds very much like his more mellow tracks.  I’m not sure his tracks belong in the middle o f a disc because they tend to really bring the momentum to a halt.  Although it is a pretty song, it’s quite mellow (the organ solo at the end is pretty sweetly retro).  It’s followed by the five-minute slow instrumental “Who is This Man and Why is He Laughing?”  It really feels like an album ender.

So when “The Latest Attempt on Your Life” comes in, it revitalizes the sleepiness that those two songs imbue.  This track has the wonderful repeated chant “Everyone hates you, you sing like a woman”).  “Polar Bears and Trees” follows and it’s another kind of crazy song from Bidini.  It has such simple verses but the chanted “hey hey ho ho” rocks hard and is wonderfully fun.  (The lyrics are clever too).

Vesely returns with the beautiful, wonderfully catchy “Making Progress” which has another great retro keyboard solo at the end. The final track “Praise This Mutilated World” is one of the most beautiful songs in their output.  It starts as a fairly simple acoustic track (Bidini knows a good melody).  At about two minutes in, the band joins in with amazing harmonies.  The quiet parts keep coming back only to be overwhelmed by the harmonies once again.  The last two minutes are a spoken section.  It goes on a bit long, but is redeemed by another gorgeous chorus.

There’s a bonus track which is a very electronic version of  “Record Body Count.”  So this disc is definitely overly long in some places.  There are some great parts to the disc, but it feels like it could have used a good editor.  Nevertheless, since it’s the band’s final release, respect is due.

[READ: March 15, 2011] “Water Spider”

This very short (three-pages) story turned very dark rather quickly.

It opens with an African man, Bokarie, settling into his life as a convenience store clerk in Ottawa.  We learn that he was granted asylum, and that he has the scars to prove it.  He was quite nervous about leaving his country, and he still puts cinder blocks behind his door, to discourage uninvited guests.

At the same time, the action of the story concerns the accidental drowning of Caitlin, a young girl who presumably got too close to the creek when it overflowed.  The town is obviously distraught that one of their youngest and most innocent kids was killed, and they are planning a memorial service.  They are encouraging everyone to wear pink to the service and are even hoping to get a wreath put on the town’s crest.

Bokarie looks on this entire scene with a kind of bemusement.  His life in Africa was full of death.  Most of it horrifying.  So he seems somewhat unsure of what to make of the town’s outpouring for one lost child.  And then the story slowly reveals a shocking truth.

The truth is NOT that he killed Caitlin.  That’d not how the story is going (I didn’t really think it would go there, but it was a possibility).  Rather, the truth comes out about Bokarie himself, and his life back in Africa.  And it’s frankly horrible.

As the story draws to a close, Bokarie makes a decision that is going to impact the community.  It’s a little unclear what his motivation is, but it opens so many possibilities, that it really brings out a whole new realm to the story,

In some ways this story reminded me of Damon Galgut’s “An African Sermon (from The Walrus July/Aug 2004)  which also had an African character whose past has a hidden element and which turns out to be much darker than originally laid out.

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SOUNDTRACK: THERION-Theli (1997).

I bought this disc when I was living in Boston and I immediately fell for it.  I seem to recall I was doing a lot of driving at the time, and this mix of extreme metal, orchestral accompaniment and twinned vocals was very captivating.  It was also really fun to play very loud on a dark highway.

I’d read a very good review of this disc that claimed it was a big step forward in styles of thrash/black metal (and if you Google reviews for this album they are pretty universally great).  The disc is exemplified by the track “To Mega Therion” which is almost entirely a full choir singing what I guess is the chorus.  The verses are populated by a guy screaming in a guttural voice who is answered by an almost mechanically twinned voice which sounds great but is even harder to understand.  Follow this with a beautiful piano (!) solo not unlike something Randy Rhoads put together for Blizzard of Oz, and add a pounding double bass drum all the way through (truth be told the album could be a little heavier in the bass) and you get a crazy mix of styles which is catchy and creepy at the same time.

It’s hard to match a song like that.  And, admittedly, the band doesn’t quite manage to do so, but the rest of the album keeps up this orchestral death metal throughout.

Reading about Therion has taught me that this album is something of  touchstone for a new genre of metal, called variously symphonic or operatic metal (I suppose we have this to blame for the Trans Siberian Orchestra?).

In addition to the choirs and guitars there are a lot of keyboards. They are disconcerting when you’re thinking death metal and yet really they add an even fuller sound, even if at times they are not as grand or powerful as anything else.  At times the album seems cheesey, but that may have more to do with thirteen years distance than the music itself.

Anyone who has seen The Exorcist knows that choirs can be spooky.  And when you mix it with the heavy guitars and guttural vocals, you get a really cool sinister yet catchy (and possibly uplifting) album.  There are certainly a lot heavier albums, but this one is pretty stellar.

[READ: Summer of 2010, finished December 12, 2010] Lords of Chaos

My brother-in-law gave me this book for my birthday this year.  I was familiar with it as it is fairly well-known in heavy metal circles as a fascinating read.  And so it was.

This book is basically a history of black metal in Norway and how some bands’ antics went beyond music into burning churches and even murder.  The authors present a pretty neutral account of the story.  They let the main participants (criminals) have their say and the interviews don’t comment on their answers, they just let them tell their side of the story.  The authors also know a lot about the music scene.  Of course, in the end, the authors (thankfully) disapprove of the violence.  It makes for an interesting and somewhat conflicting read. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Sonic Boom (2009).

Kiss has been kicking around in one incarnation or another for the last few years: original line up with make up, another line up with no make up and now this new line up: original makeup with two new people in the Peter and Ace positions (I wonder what happened to Bruce Kulick?).

There’s something disingenuous about having a fake Ace and a fake Peter, because in the past they always changed makeup for new members. So, this gives the impression that the original members are here (even though you can see that they are different men under the makeup).

But, Gene says it’s about the band, not the people.  So, whatever.  The first song, “Modern Day Delilah” is as good as any song they’ve done in two decades.  It’s heavy and catchy and the band sounds great.  But I feel like each song produces diminishing returns.  “Russian Roulette” loses me because the lyrics are seemingly for two different songs: one in the verses, one in the chorus (not that one should ever look too deeply at Kiss lyrics).

“Never Enough” sounds like a pretty typical 90’s Kiss song (except the melody is totally Ozzy’s “Flying High Again.”  “Nobody’s Perfect” is one of those poppy Gene songs that’s kind of throwaway but works well as a light-metal song.

The most egregious errors on this disc are the two anthems.  If ever there was a band who thrives on anthems, it’s Kiss.  But their best anthems are about partying and rocking.  These anthems are about standing united together (and we’ll ask the former members of Kiss about that).  “Stand” is about being there when you’re down. “All for the Glory” is a similar theme (we’re all for one), but it fares better musically.  It is weird though that fake Peter sings it in  voice that sounds a little bit like real Peter.  It’s also weird that “When the Lightning Strikes” features fake Ace that sounds a wee bit like real Ace.

On some better notes, I rather like the silly pun of “Danger You, Danger Me, Dangerous.”  And, “I’m an Animal” sounds a like Creatures of the Night era Kiss, which is a good thing.  The final song is an anthem that they got right.  It’s about partying and features a silly “Say Yeah!” chorus.  And that’s what Kiss does best.

The bonus disc is this new lineup re-recording classic Kiss songs. It’s a weird thing and  number of  bands seem to be doing it lately. I’m not entirely sure why.  Most of the songs sound exactly the same, but where they deviate from the original I don’t think they work as well (yes, I’m  traditionalist).  Although I like the less disco-ey version of “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”  But if you’re not going to radically change anything, then why bother?

And to hear the by now 60-something year-old Gene Simmons singing about a 16-year-old is just majorly creepy (before it was statutory, now it’s statutory and gross) if he keeps going, he’ll be living the lyrics of “Goin’ Blind,” “I’m 93, you’re 16.”

So, this is a good effort from the band.  It has received pretty rave reviews, which I don’t think it quite deserves.  But it’s better than a lot of their middle period discs.

[READ: March 20, 2010] School of Fear

I ordered this book for our library’s Spanish collection.  When it arrived it looked intriguing, so I found an English copy and set out to read it.  I enjoy this sort of children’s book: adventure, schooling, fears, books that don’t insult kids’ intelligence.

And this book doesn’t.  I’m not even sure exactly what the age range is supposed to be because some of the jokes are quite sophisticated.  However, as I will get to shortly, the older the reader is, the less likely that she will fall for the “surprise” of the book.

But let’s start at the beginning.  The premise of the book is that if you have a terrifying, crippling fear, The School of Fear will cure you of it.  But the school is incredibly secretive, so secretive, in fact, that no one knows about it (except for the precious few who can help you get help there). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years [movie] (1988).

I feel like this movie aired a lot when I was a kid.  I wish I could remember what I thought about it back then, because watching it the other night I couldn’t believe how dumb everyone looked.  Whether it was Steven Tyler acting profound talking about masturbating or Joe Perry and his sourpuss.  Or Paul Stanley lying in bed with 4 women strewn around during his interview.   Or bless his heart, Chris Holmes’ drunken antics in the pool in front of his mother.   I’m half certain that it was staged, as nobody is that dumb.

Or any of the nameless masses primping for the movie (I’d love to know where the guy with half black/half white hair is now).  Or when any of the people who were sure they were going to become rock stars gave up and got jobs.

The only people who come out looking clever are Lemmy, seeming calm and wise on a mountaintop (?); Poison, for the love of God, who admit to their failings yet seem rather reasonable (and make the best unintentional joke about blowing all your cash on a Le Mans), Dave Mustaine who seems the most intelligent person in the movie, and Ozzy Osbourne.

Ozzy gets the best cut of anyone.  In his bathrobe, he makes a delicious breakfast of eggs, very undercooked bacon (he should have started the bacon first) and spilt orange juice.  At this time in his career, I believe he was being managed by Sharon (who everyone knows from the reality show), but at the time, she was unknown.  And I have to wonder how much of the genius of that scene was her idea.  Not only does it make anyone who called him a Satanist look silly, he gets the biggest and best intentional laughs.

Watching this movie as a married 40 year old, with my wife sitting next to me, I was frankly embarrassed for the way these bozos were carrying on.  And I think I was more embarrassed for them than for me.  Ah, Odin and your buttless chaps.

Of course, I’ve been a metalhead forever so I’ve always been amused by nonsensical antics.  And I’ve always rebelled against people like the woman from whatever anti-metal group was in the movie.  What’s great about her scene is that Penelope Spheeris doesn’t mock her.  She doesn’t do any weird edits or goofy sound effects or anything.  She just lets the lady speak her version of the truth and allows the audience (granted the audience is metal fans, but any reasonable adult could tell) to realize just how weird and silly she is.  The idea that the Secret Devil Worship Sign (as the Dead Milkmen call it) is really three 6’s (even her demonstration pushing reality) and that it is three fingers down to deny the holy trinity (when in fact it’s actually two fingers down and one thumb across) is just inspired lunacy.  Especially when you hear Ronnie James Dio, who ostensibly brought the sign into metal in the first place reveal that it was a something his grandmother did to ward off the evil eye.   Ah, the days of 80’s censorship, which I got ever so het up about.

But it was just those people that encouraged bands to come up with more and more outrageous names and deeds.  So, when Sarah asks me what is wrong with a band for naming themselves (* see below the fold for my newfound favorite band name), I told her it was in response to people like that.  When people go looking for evil in the mundane, well, why not just be evil right in their faces and see what they do.

Sure, it’s childish, but it’s also fun!

I only wish they would show The Decline of Western Civilization Part One once in a while.

[READ: February 28, 2010]  All Known Metal Bands (D-E)

About eight months ago, I posted that I had started reading this book.  Obviously I am not reading it very often as I am only up to the E’s.  But I picked it up again the other day and found my two new favorite band names: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK SABBATH-Master of Reality (1971).

This album seems to have directly inspired more bands than any other Sabbath record.  There’s the band Masters of Reality (who I’ve never heard) and there’s the 1,000 Homo DJ’s EP and blistering cover for “Supernaut.”

This is one of my favorite Sabbath discs, even though, or maybe because there aren’t as many hits on it.  The story goes that since Tony Iommi had his fingertips cut off (!) he had to downtune his guitar so the strings would be looser and therefore less painful to play.  As such, this disc introduces a sort of “classic” Sabbath sludgy sound.  But even though this album doesn’t get a the airplay of Paranoid any metal fan knows a few of these songs.  “Sweet Leaf,” for instance, is quite well known.  It also makes me laugh because it is so clearly pro-drug (after all those anti-drug songs on the first two discs).  And of course, it opens with that great echoing cough (which I now assume is from someone toking up).

“After Forever” is one of those great Sabbath songs where Geezer Butler’s bass fills stand out throughout the bridges.  It also features one of Tony Iommi’s strangely “happy” sounding opening chords  The song itself is pretty dark but the chords are so upbeat!  The song has a lyric that I found shocking as a kid: “would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope, do you think he’s a fool?”  And of course, the guitar solo flies wildly around your head from one speaker to the other.

“Embryo” is a strange middle eastern sounding 30 second instrumental that segues into the awesome “Children of the Grave.”  It’s one of those Sabbath songs that sounds menacing all the way through.  There’s a weird clicking sound in the verses that I assume is Geezer Butler’s de-tuned, incredibly loose bass strings slapping the fretboard.  And, of course, it ends with a wonderfully warped ghostly guitar feedback sounds and the whispered “Ch ch ch ch children.”

The second half of the disc is quite different from the first.  “Orchid” is a delightful 90 second acoustic guitar workout.  And it segues into “Lord of This World” a real rock and roll sounding song (featuring some great Ozzy screaming).  “Solitude” is like “Planet Caravan” from Paranoid, in that it’s a slow, trippy psychedelic sense (is it possible that Sabbath didn’t know that they were a metal band?).

Finally comes “Into the Void.”  This was one of the first songs I’d ever learned on guitar.  My guitar teacher liked the down-tuned low E string aspect of it, and I still enjoy playing it today.

As my friend Andrew pointed out the other day, John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats has written a 33 1/3 book about Master of Reality.  While I haven’t read it yet, Darnielle is pretty cool, so I assume it’s a great read if you like this disc.

[READ: November 30, 2009] “Loggerheads”

Not every David Sedaris piece is funny.  We know he’s not a comedian, per se, although he is certainly a humorous writer.  We also know that some Sedaris pieces are kind of disgusting.  He tends to delight in the grotesque.  However, in this piece he combines the disgusting with the non-humorous to create a very unsatisfying piece. (more…)

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